Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World: Girls, Rock, and Video Games– The Cornerstones of Life
I never like saying that people won’t “get” a movie. There is plenty in Edgar Wright’s fun new film Scott Pilgrim vs. the World that the layman would understand– the elements regarding music and young love are universal. However, so much of the joy of the film comes from a shared love of old video games that if you’re unfamiliar, you simply won’t be able to fully share in all of the “inside jokes” that Wright sprinkles into the picture. This movie has “cult classic” written all over it, because it’s clearly such a labor of love made for a specific niche audience. More than that, it’s quite funny, very energetic, stylistically unique, and full of some fairly exciting fight sequences. Its plot is rather episodic, but unlike most of the other films this summer, it manages to deliver on what it promises, and it shows Michael Cera portraying more than the usual Cera character, revealing hints of badassness underneath his usual awkward mumbly exterior.
Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is a 23-year old slacker in Toronto. He plays bass for his band Sex Bob-omb (an example of a great joke that a non-video game crowd wouldn’t get) and is dating a high school student named Knives (Ellen Wong). His band is going nowhere, he shares an apartment and mattress with his gay roommate Wallace (Kieran Culkin), and he seems to be doing nothing other than pursuing his own selfish dead-end interests. Then, he meets Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and his world changes. He instantly falls in love with her, and while she is guarded, he is desperate to win her over and date her. When he makes progress, he is suddenly attacked by a stranger and learns that Ramona, girl of his dreams, has seven evil exes that he must defeat in order to date her. These fights are full of video game style action, and when a villain is killed, he turns into gold coins (again, a great joke for the video gamers).
Edgar Wright’s films have been great at delivering a high concept while making it feel like an ensemble-driven piece. Every character in this movie– and there are roughly ten of note– feels individual and developed, and I’m not even talking about the evil exes yet. There’s Scott, Ramona, Wallace, Knives, the other band members Stephen, Neil, and Kim, Scott’s ex Envy, Scott’s sister Stacy, and Stephen’s ex Julie. Sound complicated? It’s not, because they all have their own unique personalities. It’s hard for some films to have just one character with a voice, and here we have ten. They’re hard to single out because they’re all so strong. Kieran Culkin steals every moment he speaks, Ellen Wong gives a great performance as a character who could have easily been one-note and obnoxious, Anna Kendrick brings her always-great screen presence, and Alison Pill as Kim continues to quietly be one of the best actresses of her generation in a performance that isn’t flashy but manages to be full of nuance.
Some of the exes are more effective than others. The first ex and the twin exes don’t have very much personality, but the rest are home runs. Chris Evans is continuing to establish himself as the go-to smartass in Hollywood, and although his fight ends somewhat anticlimactically, the battle itself is pretty terrific. Mae Whitman is very spunky as Ramona’s scorned lesbian ex. Jason Schwartzman… well, by now you know what he does, and he does it very well. All of the actors in this film are perfectly in tune with the comic book/video game style, and they all deliver their lines perfectly. No one, however, was more surprising than Brandon Routh as the vegan evil ex. He’s hilarious, giving great line reads, and acting appropriately mimbo-ish. When can Hollywood get this guy back on track? Did Superman really kill his career? I know it wasn’t very good, but he’s now played against type to some degree in two comedies in brief roles– can he get maybe a romantic comedy role? Something that will showcase his good looks and his comedic timing?
The two main stars here are Michael Cera and Edgar Wright. I’d discussed recently how having nerds as action heroes is a hot trend I’m not a fan of, but Cera manages to be more than I expected. Scott Pilgrim is a bit of a jerk, a selfish ladykiller, and when he plays bass, he rocks out. It meant that although Cera got to play his trademark awkwardness when he’s trying to court Ramona, he also got to exude his own style of confidence. He’s a convincing musician and, most shocking of all, a convincing ass-kicker. As for Edgar Wright, he’s now three for three, successfully making the transition to North American films after the near-classics Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. He’s adopted very different styles for his three film, mimicking the bleak zombie look for the former and the rapid-cutting Bruckheimer style for the latter. Here, it’s another style again, a very crisp paneled look full to the brim with visual gags. He’s a very personal filmmaker, clearly not kowtowing to suits in order to make his films more “universal” (read: more hollow)– he’s made a 60 million dollar budget film for a very narrow audience. His love of rock music, video games, and the complications of young love shines through. Any movie with Edgar Wright at the helm has a 1-up on the competition.